Confessions of a Florentine Pet Sitter


Meal Time Dance
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Meal Time Dance

Tai the Terrible, the Himalayan, stole bits of food from Brillo’s dish even before Brillo the Black walked away from it. As soon as Brillo took a bite and turned his head away from his dish to chew, Tai extended his front leg with cupped paw over into Brillo’s bowl and scooped out a piece. I admonished him to wait for Brillo to finish eating: Tai, don’t even think about it! Wait until Brillo finishes. Understanding my command he walked away in slow misery, sulking, licking his paw. Oh how he wanted that piece of food! He always wanted more and seemed to have no qualms about taking more.

I often wondered if Brillo turned away to chew just to give his brother cat the opportunity to steal his food. Between two cats that often got into fur-flying scuffles, it felt like it was a cordial entente, a symbiosis, of a sort, providing each other an environment for survival by helping each other out. Tai got to satisfy his hunger, and Brillo got peace… maybe.

On another level, Brillo was the hunter, and Tai got to eat his catch. And I got to clean up the mess when he vomited all the indigestible parts! Ugh!



Bull Leaping Gold Medalist is…

The most famous depiction of bull leaping is a fresco discovered in the Palace of Knossos in ancient Crete. It shows a human leaping over the horns of a bull, flipping or cartwheeling the length of the bull’s back.  The sport, if it was a sport, begins with a bull and a running man charging each other, the man grabbing the bulls horns to use as a spring-board and flipping over backwards, doing a handstand on the back of the creature, and using his strength to spring up and over the rump to land on ones feet. Surviving this feat was rare.

There are many depictions of bull leaping and many archaeologists have theorized reasons for this activity. Even today there remains a group of modern tattooed-bull-leaping-sportsmen in France and Spain leaping over cows. This is a link to the National Geographic interactive educational Bull Leaping description.

My bull leaper, Cricket, is charging and jumping over a stationary exercise bicycle (the bull), only she begins with its seat or rump, not the horns or handlebars. No video, so you’ll just have to imagine her in this sport and vicariously enjoy the fun she is having. She started when she was a kitten. She enjoyed racing 8 feet across the length of the catio to two cardboard boxes she used as a springboard to leap on to the bike’s seat, then straight over to the handle bars. She managed to maintain her balance on the bars, turn around to leap back to the seat and boxes and race again to the far end of the catio. Over and over she used the bike and cardboard boxes in this manner, exhausting herself, honing her running and strength and balance skills. And keeping me entertained all the while.

In this image she is staring intently at the ball I recently placed near the handlebars, the bull’s horns. She is leaning on the bull’s rump, and it  looks like she is wondering if the ball is worth the challenge. Do I really want that ball? Do I really want to play cat-sitter Susan’s game? Is it worth getting mangled by those horns?

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1. Pondering, is it worth the challenge?

This next image shows she has made up her mind. She is going for the ball. Tentatively she reaches out to it, but realizes her leg stretch isn’t quite long enough. She tries several times, while still maintaining her ground on the bulls rump.

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2. Decision made, she reaches across the divide…

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3. Reaching, stretching, just a little more, and she’s there!

She takes a minor leap and lands her front paws near the ball, grabs it with her teeth, however, she is in a mighty precarious position. She now has to finish her routine, but how does she get from point A-Rump to point C-Horns? Especially without dropping the ball? It’s a monumental task…a challenge in which she has to get a grip and take the bull by the horns. Her crooked tail fluffs in excitement.

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4. The catch is in her mouth, now what?

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5. Feeling stretched!

We can see she still carries the ball in her mouth. Okay, she’s got both front paws on the horns, now all Cricket has to do is get balanced, adjust her forepaws and somehow leap on to the horns so she is there with all four legs. Can she do it?

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6. Teetering and Turning

She teeters back and forth, and finally inch by inch, teeter by teeter, turn by turn, she maneuvers her body around so she is now facing the opposite direction. Balancing is tricky. Still a bit wobbly perched on the front edge of the horns, Cricket is now pondering the trip back. She has to leap back to the bull’s rump with the ball still in her mouth to win the game. And then…

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Heading back to the bull’s rump, the finish line…

She steps gingerly on the lever to get closer to the bull’s seat. She is almost home.

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Finally, all four paws on the rump

The movement and power of the jump has created a forward momentum. She brakes as forcefully as she can to avoid vaulting off the edge of the seat.  She  rocks back and forth to regain her balance.

On the bull’s rump, she will need to turn her body once again and face the judges. The ball must remain in the mouth all the way through this sport. It is about the agility and balance of the cat plus their multitasking abilities.

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Turning, trying not to fall off, not to drop the ball

This is getting tense folks. We’re waiting on the edge of our seats to see just how Cricket will end her bid for the gold medal. Leaping the bull is no easy task, but so far she has done a splendid job. Long ago, in ancient times, if a young powerful athlete failed to leap the bull perfectly, he was dead. Cricket is taking her time… wanting to make this last step just right.

Remember, she needs to do it with the ball still in her mouth. It takes concentration to hold that ball and at the same time maneuver into the last perfect position.

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The final turn…and OOPS!

Oh no, Folks, she’s dropped the ball! Cricket has dropped the ball! She may have lost her one and only chance to win the gold medal. This is disastrous!

She’s looking up, looking for reaction, did someone see that I just dropped the ball? Maybe not. Hopefully not. This is the end. I’m not sure I can get through one more Olympic challenge after this. I think I’m done. Oh woe is me. Pleeeeeeease let it not be the end. She hears hissing from the stands.

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Wanna-be Gold Medalist awaiting her scores

Despite her disappointment at dropping the ball at the end of a perfect challenge, she waits patiently. A true sports-kitty. She sits. Waits for the final score. She sits staring off into the void she created for herself today, the black hole of failure.

The crowd is off their seats, meowing, ratcheting up the meows to  growling and hissing. We can’t tell if they are happy she fumbled the ball, or if they are unhappy with the knowledge she may lose.

Wait! here it comes…

The officiating officer of the games announced the winner of the Gold Medal: And the winner of the Gold Medal is... in anticipation the crowd breaks into a cacophony of roars. Deafening. Roaring Cricket! Cricket Cricket! We want Cricket!

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A gold-plated paper wad.

…The winner is Miss Cricket!

Amidst the roar and excitement of the crowd, Cricket accepts the gold-plated paper wad, designed by a renowned Florentine cat-toy designer. Set before her on the pedestal, a large bowl of Stella and Chewy Chicken nuggets and a large container of bottled water. So hungry and dehydrated from her strenuous bull leaping, she growls and hisses as she chews. No one is going to steal away her meal.  Let them eat wad.



No Way
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No Way that fix-it guy is going to get my mouse!

Blondie has been going crazy with the tiny toy mice that I send her. She exhausts herself playing with them. Before taking her nap, she hides them in various places. After her nap she digs them out from under pillows and furniture and begins playing again. She carries them around in her mouth. She wakes her mom up by sitting on her chest, staring at her, Wake up! Wake Up! Wake up! Four in the morning is a startling moment to wake up with anyone sitting and staring at you, nonetheless with a cat sitting on your chest inches away from your face, staring at you with a mouth full of mouse! Willing you to wake up, wake up wake up!

I woke up in the hospital bed one night after my surgery and as I rolled over I became aware my night nurse was standing about four feet back from my bed, quietly staring at me, listening to my breathing she said. Willing me to wake up first probably, because the last time she woke me up I was combative and socked her in the face! It was a strange feeling to know someone was staring at me while I blissfully and fitfully slept. Did I snore? Did I talk in my sleep and give away ungodly secrets?

​Regarding Blondie, I am just delighted that she is enjoying my gifts so much!

This cartoon developed one day when her mom had a repairman out to fix her clothes dryer. She said Blondie sat in the living room with the mouse stuffed in her mouth the whole time he was there working.​ The image stuck with me, couldn’t get it out of my mind. I just had to give it a try. Hand-drawn first, I then scanned and computer manipulated it.  I had in mind this image of Blondie sitting upright, tall, still, prim and proper like a princess, with her tiny cheeks bulging with a black mouse, and anxiety in her eyes wide-open; how long, how long, how long was she going to have to suck on this soggy mouse? When could she breathe? When could she get a sip of water?

There was no way she was going to let this fix-it guy steal her mouse. But, she may also have been hiding the mouse, and feeling remorse, thinking it would give away her secret…that she had quietly secreted away another mouse behind the dryer and it was the cause of the strange noise her mom had heard.

I tried to get the character of Blondie’s stubbornness and the strain of having to hold something in her mouth for so long – she couldn’t swallow, the mouse was undoubtedly soaking up her saliva, drying out her tongue, making it feel fuzzy, and her eyes would get wide and buggy with the stress of it all.

Poor kitty, all she had to do was spit it out, but maybe she didn’t have any spit left.



Bully Tai
March 15, 2015, 10:58 AM
Filed under: art, cat paintings, cats and dogs | Tags: , ,

Tai_surveyor_BlogTai the Terrible
Pencil Drawing by Susan Canavarro

Tai the Terrible steals food from Brillo’s dish even before Brillo has walked away from it. As soon as Brillo takes a bite and turns his head away from his dish to chew, Tai extends his front leg with cupped paw over into Brillo’s bowl and scoops out a piece. If I admonish him to wait for Brillo to finish eating, he walks away in slow misery, sulking, licking his paw. I often wonder if Brillo turned away to chew just to give his brother the opportunity, perhaps like a symbiotic relationship of odd species where one helps the other survive.

They have one small pot of chewing-grass growing by the back patio door that they both like to munch on first thing in the morning. It is cool and damp with morning dew and tastes mighty good after a long dry night. Tai, in his typical Tai manner, bullies his way up to the grass where Brillo is chewing. He wants the grass from that very same spot. He pushes Brillo away. Noses his way in to the pot of grass, and begins gnawing away it it thirstily. Brillo paces looking for an opening to reach the other side of the plant but other potted plants block his access. He sits patiently waiting for Tai to finish quenching his thirst on the green dew-covered grass. I can’t stand to see Brillo bullied and dying of thirst. I slide the other plants away from the backside to make room for him. He scoots in. With gluttonous delight Brillo finally quenches his morning-dry-mouth.

Brillo gets a lot of attention and Tai wants more. When they are inside, they get into rousing cat fights. In slow motion they stalk each other, watching each others every movement, and suddenly with lightening-speed one will pounce. Tufts of fur fly, and the off-white carpet is littered with clumps of black and cream-colored cat fur. I pull out the vacuum again.

Most of the time it is Tai that is the aggressor because he is jealous, but recently I’ve watched Brillo initiate fights like he has had enough already. I’ve also seen him steal food from his brother’s bowl. There is a theory that animals learn behaviors by watching others in their clan. That is happening here with Brillo; he is learning from Tai, albeit very slowly, how to be the aggressor. They have become tit for tat cats now—you bully me and I’ll steal your food!

Sadly, Tai the Terrible was not able to defend himself against the real aggressor outside—a coyote grabbed him and  dragged  him off into the woods. He didn’t have a chance.

Brillo wandered around the house looking for him, but he eventually relaxed and settled in as the only child. He is soaking up all the attention he ever wanted. No guilts. No worries.

Unfortunately, soon after Tai’s death, he also passed away. Like a few long-time married couples, when one spouse dies, the other will fade off soon afterwards. It is sad. These two cats had been a family with their owners for many years.

© 2015 Susan Canavarro



The Defiant One teaches me about courage
The Defiant One (aka. NASCAR Blondie)

The Defiant One (aka. NASCAR Blondie) #1

I found this quote on PaintersKeys.com the morning after I had made changes to my painting The Defiant One for all the wrong reasons. It seems all too appropriate for a discussion I was having the day before with a friend about the importance or lack of importance concerning perfect drafting skills. I said I didn’t care about drawing correctly, that I thought the character of the drawing was more important. I don’t look for drawing errors when I look at art.  I look at the whole composition and how it works together. And I believe character is key. It is that which expresses the unique feeling whether one draws the cat correctly or not, and that expression of feeling is most important. It is character that turns it into a painting and not a photograph.
On Painter’s Keys the next morning:

​Limitations are an access point for focus, discipline, resourcefulness and the development of voice.

They’re clues to uniqueness and form-style and point of view — requirements of all works of art to communicate and connect. “In abandoning the vagueness of the sketch,” wrote Eugene Delacroix, “the artist shows more of his personality by revealing the range but also the limitations of his talent.” We fear our limitations will define us, yet they’re the hurdles necessary for refinement and courage. They’re the builders of character, and paintings need character. “The greatest progress in life,” said Yogi Bhajan, “is when you know your limitations, and then you have the courage to drop them.” ​

The night before, Blondie’s ears haunted me. I couldn’t sleep. I had already made many small corrections to this painting, but suddenly when I was looking at its enlarged version on my laptop, I saw that the ears were way too large for her head. I had drawn them incorrectly. They were too tall and too pointy. They looked like bobcat ears. Perhaps the devil’s ears. BUT they contributed to the character of her stance. She was excited, riled up, the hair on her rump standing up in anticipation. Blondie waited for her mom to do something, perhaps something Blondie didn’t want to do, and her fierce alert and defiant pose said so.  Okay Mom, take the darn picture, let’s get this over with, okay! I’ve got mice to play with.
Shamefully,  last night I decided to redraw and repaint Blondie’s large pointy ears that gave this painting so much unique character. Truth be told, I was afraid of failure. I’ve never been able to draw with ease. Always a struggle. And I didn’t want anyone pointing out that I was bad at drawing! I lacked the courage to believe in my work. This lack of courage rears its ugly head a lot with me.
Oh woe is me…what’s a gal to do?
I learned a valuable lesson last night, two lessons.
  • One, I am a hypocrite, I say one thing and do another. BAD. I don’t care about the drawing, yet I feel a deep need to make mine look right. What?
  • Two, I learned from the above quote that it is okay make mistakes because the errors work with the whole picture to create character and emotion and draw people in to experience something powerful —whether you as artist recognize it or not—an experience of connection and a wonderment. Oh look how those ears stand up so tall and pointy and don’t they add to the mood of that cat’s stance!
If courage and wisdom had not escaped me, I would have left the ears alone.
Here’s the altered ears. Smaller, shaped better, and more proportionate to her head.
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The Defiant One with new ears #2 CORRECTED

They added very little to the total emotion of her stance. So I made the new ears appear more pointy by limning the edges and tips of the ears with white light. Now some of the pointy character is back, but they are not as big. Not as fierce!

​Next time I hope I will be able to control my urges to make it perfect. I claim to not care, but I lack the courage to live with my failures if I cannot do it. I’ve got to let go of that. I’ve got to let go of the idea that my bad drawing means failure—not only in my painting of cats, but also in my landscapes and papiér maché cats. It is, rather, about character and emotion.



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